This wasn’t part of the plan at all. In fact this was almost the exact opposite of the plan. She wasn’t completely sure what the plan was in its entirety, but she knew the first step was running, and this really threw a wrench in things.
Clarke had been checking traps. Quite satisfied with herself, two rabbits tied together and slung over her shoulders, silent as any grounder, she’d slipped between the trees, careful to avoid drawing attention in any way, leaving no tracks. She’d thought it was an animal at first, the cries coarse and weak. Hopeless. But, if she’d truly been able to believe it was just an animal, she’s sure would have walked the other way… and she didn’t.
It took her a minute to locate the source. Crouching in the undergrowth, she parted a thicket of ferns, drawing in a shuddering breath, eyes widening when the reality of the moment hit her.
The baby was naked, and not moving except to tremble. He must be freezing. Though it was a warm spring this year, and they were further south than Clarke had ever been, there was a fair breeze drifting off the sea sat only a mile to the east. Ripping her pack off her back, she dragged out her only two spare, mostly clean shirts, and instinctively scooped the baby boy up, swaddling him tightly.
Her mind was racing too fast to recall all the postnatal care she’d been taught when she’d been training with medical. There weren’t a whole lot of babies born on the Ark. She’d been present at five births. She didn’t remember much now, but she recognised one thing; this baby was young, really young. He couldn’t be much more than a week old. His umbilical stump was gone, but the scab that had formed there was still healing. It wasn’t his only injury either. The boy had bruising around his shoulders, but she supposed that might have happened during the birth, and there was a rash on his arms and back Clarke was sure was just from the fern he’d been left in. Even then, Clarke wasn’t an idiot…. a baby this young, left naked in the middle of the woods. He’d been abandoned. It was common practice when grounder babies were born too small or with deformities. Just… Clarke hadn’t immediately seen anything like that before she’d swaddled him. Resting the child against her chest, Clarke attempted to shush him, tucking him in her jacket, and leaning her chin down so his head was as exposed as little as possible.
His hair was soft and almost black, thicker than any hair she’d seen on a child this small, with skin a pallid golden brown, and eyes so large and dark they almost didn’t seem to fit on his face.
“Hey, Sweetheart,” Clarke whispered as she rocked him slowly against her, glad when he whimpered in response, “I’ve got you.” Unwrapping the makeshift swaddling, and checking him over, she stroked his tiny fingers, counting them; five, all perfect with little nails attached. Then she moved to his feet, and her face fell; one, two, three, four, five… six. A tiny protrusion, an extra little toe, poking at an angle from between what would normally be considered his fourth and fifth toes, out of the shell pink soles of his two feet. Clarke sighed. Such a small thing, maybe could have caused some mobility issues later on, but a small operation could quickly remove the sixth toe before then without much issue. Grounders could be a superstitious bunch, she supposed; it wasn’t like she could judge that hard, it wasn’t like the Ark had never practiced eugenics to some extent. If she got him to her mom, they could fix him, make sure he never had to worry about walking, or being rejected for his deformity. Clarke shook her head, she couldn’t go back. It had been six months at least, almost seven. The longer she stayed away, the harder it got to think about going home as an option. But, if she didn’t, she was left with the issue of what to do with the baby.
Cursing to herself, Clarke clambered to her feet, throwing her pack onto her back, and grabbing the rabbits, she marched back to her current hideout. It wasn’t far, and the baby was too weak to really cry, so hopefully she managed to go unnoticed. Apparently the warmth and movement lulled him to sleep, despite his empty stomach. She needed to find a way to feed him.
Once the fire was stoked and letting forth a steady heat, Clarke removed one of the shirts from around the baby and dipped it in a bucket of fresh water she’d collected. Gently brushing it against the baby’s lips, she prayed he’d begin to drink. As he moved his lips to suckle, Clarke sighed in relief. It wouldn’t be enough, but it would stop him being dehydrated for now. She had no idea how she was going to keep this baby alive without finding a source of milk. It over a weeks journey to make it back to Arkadia, and it’s not like she could drag a goat along with her, even if she managed to find and steal one. She couldn’t take the main paths, there were people looking for her… or rather, looking for Wanheda. Wanheda with a baby, what kind of sick irony was that.
Clarke couldn’t sleep. The baby cried softly for hours, red faced with tears, until Clarke couldn’t stand it anymore, heartstrings throughly tugged. He was still hungry.
Finding the thickest fur she had she wrapped it around him and then used a long strip of cloth she used as a sling for collecting wood to tether him to her, before slipping her jacket on and pulling the hood up. There was a grounder hamlet not far from here, though in the opposite direction from where she’d found junior, so probably not where he came from. There she might be able to sneak in and skim some food suitable for a baby.
Trudging through the dark, the rhythmic movement seeming to distract him for now. Maybe she should have left him in the cave, but some instinct had told her he’d be safer if she took him with her. His cries could attract animals if he’d got too loud. Plus… a part of her didn’t want him to feel abandoned again.
Calculating her approach, Clarke chose the small structure sat fairly centrally as where the food must be kept, it looked like ones she’d seen in other grounder villages.
‘You have to really quiet now baby,” Clarke muttered into the child’s hair.
He remained still and didn’t make a sound, which she took as a good omen. The structure wasn’t locked, only tied with a rope and complicated knot that she struggled with a minute.
Clarke had grown eerily used to the feel of the cool edge of a blade against her neck.
“Nou step au,” a clear, harsh voice said from behind her. ‘Don’t move.’
“Ai laik gon nou,” Clarke promised, holding her hands up so they could be seen. ‘I am unarmed.’ Not technically true, with small knife strapped to her ankle, inside her boot wrappings, but it might get the grounder to calm down.
“Gou raun,” the voice demanded. ‘Turn around.’
Keeping her hands up, Clarke began to turn. She shook a little, hoping she had come far enough from home that this grounder wouldn’t know who she was... what she was.
The grounder was only a little taller than Clake, a woman around her mother’s age, with the facial tattoos of a warrior, like Indra’s. Long hair braided back from her face. With Clarke’s hands still up, her jacket was pulled back from her chest making the baby visible. Clarke resisted the urge to bring her hands back down to him; to protect him.
He squirmed against her and the grounder lowered her gaze from Clarke’s face, eyes widening.
“Skrish,” the woman cursed to herself, noticing the baby, her sword wavering.
Clarke prayed to any and every god that this village wasn’t where the baby had come from. “Beja. Em's enti, en ai can nou fed em,” Clarke pleaded with the woman. ‘Please. He’s hungry, and I can’t feed him.’
The grounder’s jaw tensed. “Wha laik yu lone?”
Why was Clarke alone? Because she was stubborn. Because she was scared, and angry at herself. Because she was a murderer.
“Osir weer nor goin. Osir weer sever,” Clarke lied deftly. ‘We were headed north. We got seperated.’
The grounder finally lowered her blade and gestured to the baby. “Yu laik i's nomon?” ‘You are it’s mother?’
Clarke nodded slowly. It was the easiest lie to maintain. Plenty of mothers found it difficult to breastfeed. It wasn’t unbelievable. Clarke remember when Rooney McOrson had her baby on the Ark, she’d struggled and cried for a week before Abby had insisted she needed to take medication to induce lactation. Clarke realised suddenly. Rooney… she hadn’t been in Arkadia. Clarke blinked back tears and tried not to think about what she knew that meant.
The grounder watched Clarke’s eyes begin to well with tears, and seemed to take pity.
“Come goufa.” Her features softened and she beckoned for Clarke to follow her.
Clarke let out a breath of relief, hands lowering to rest against the baby.
“Yu don a tagon?” The woman asked. ‘You have a name?’
“Octavia.” She winced as soon as she said it. Feeling weird, almost like she was stealing it. But, she couldn’t use her real name, and she didn’t want to appear to waver, so she’d simply said the first name that came to mind.
“En yu goufa?” The woman inquired as they reached the door of a barn, the shuffling of animals to be heard inside. She turned to face Clarke. ‘And your child?’
“Nu tagon. Ni forg.” Clarke looked down at the baby, brow furrowed. ‘No name. Not yet.’ Maybe she should give him a name… she was as well positioned as anyone to do it. Then again, he’d probably be adopted when she got him back to Arkadia, and his new parents might choose a different one.
“Ha kriken? Em ste foto kom bants a goufa untagon.” The woman’s expression morphed into one of worry. ‘How old? It is bad luck to leave a child unnamed.’
“Ai don gou.” Clarke smiled a little. ‘I have time.’
“Taim,” the woman corrected Clarke and shook her head, smiling knowingly.
Clarke looked at her in confusion.
“Your trigedasleng needs work, little skaigoufa.” The woman didn’t stop smiling.
Clarke’s jaw clenched tightly, she wrapped her hands closer around the baby, taking a step back.
“Calm yourself. I am Gelma, the leader of this village. I will not harm you,” she promised, finally slipping her sword into her belt. “Come. I will help you feed your child.”
Clarke still wasn’t sure of this, but she had no other way of getting the baby fed than this.
“We’ve heard stories of those that fell from the sky, even here.” Gelma made her way through the braying goats, and knelt to pull up a hatch buried in the earth.
Clarke didn’t cover her nose. There were far worse smells than that of a dozen unwashed goats hanging out in their own muck, she knew that now. And, if she was going to take care of this baby for now, she would have get used to poo pretty quick.
Gelma emerged from hatch with a large gourd. “Sit.”
Clarke did as she was told, placing herself on an upturned bucket. Unwrapping the baby from the sling, she cradled him, still naked apart from the furs. He yawned and then opened his eyes to blink at her, reaching up a tiny pudgy hand, he seemed to grasp for her. He was too young for that, Clarke thought, but it was the impression she got all the same.
“Here,” Clarke said softly, placing her little finger in his grasp, “hold on tight, and don’t let go, okay?”
The little boy did as he was told. He turned his face to nuzzle her chest; definitely hungry then.
“Dip your finger, and see if he will take it.” Gelma grabbed another bucket so she could sit beside Clarke, and offered her the gourd full of milk.
Clarke rubbed some of the liquid on his lips, and breathed out in relief when he immediately moved them. Pulling the same cloth she’d soaked in water for him out of her pocket she handed it to Gelma and trusted she knew that to do.
Gelma doused the cloth in milk and handed it back. Getting up quickly, and leaving the barn.
Clarke watched her go, hoping she’d simply gone to fetch something. Clarke hoisted the baby against her shoulder and placed the cloth against his lips for him to suck on. Leaning her forehead against his, listening to him eat, Clarke felt her shoulders relax. He wasn’t going to die… that was a start.
Gelma returned a few minutes later, another large gourd in hand. She presented it to Clarke. “My daughter required this when her daughter was born. It will help to feed him. There is still a chance you can feed him yourself. I will give you the recipe.”
Clarke’s eyes widened. No… she wasn't. She couldn’t. He wasn’t really hers. Except… she couldn’t tell Gelma that. Even the nicest people could be superstitious. She might force Clarke to leave him out there again. Clarke would die before she let another innocent child suffer when she could stop it.
“Two sips every four hours, even at night.” Gelma held the gourd out further.
“Thank you,” Clarke said, unsure, accepting the gift gracefully. There was a nausea medication her mom prescribed that had been what she’d also given Rooney to help her feed her baby. It didn’t surprise Clarke too much that a remedy existed in nature to rectify such a common issue. “Why are you helping me?” Clarke asked curiously.
“I will not have a child starve, no matter its mother.” Gelma held her chin up, eyes focused on where the baby was still feeding on the goats milk. “Come, Octavia kom Skaikru,” she said again, “I will find you a place to sleep.”
“Oh… oh no, I-” Clarke shook her head. She couldn’t stay.
“For the child’s sake, please.” Gelma’s gaze was intense.
Clarke conceded silently, pulling herself up, keeping the baby steady, she made sure he was wrapped up before following Gelma out into the open.
Seeing a tiny light out the corner of her eye, Clarke looked up to see small bursts of white light streaming across the night sky; shooting stars. Mouth falling open, Clarke faltered, “oh…” She remembered lights like this, and the question she’d asked Bellamy, though it seemed so long ago now. Now these were the kind of shooting stars you could wish on. What would she wish for? Redemption? Probably. Then she could go home... Clarke wondered if Bellamy and the others could see these at Arkadia. She hoped they could. She hoped they were wishing on them too.
“We call them ‘pain gon natshana’, the tears of the moon. You should see them in August, when the summer sun is setting for the year and the stars ride in great numbers all across the darkness. The Tears of August are a beautiful thing,” Gelma informed her softly.
“The Tears of August…” Clarke muttered to herself. She didn’t know why the poetry of those words struck her so. At her chest the baby wriggled, as if suddenly feeling the cool air hit his exposed face, he let out a cry. Clarke looked down to see single tears emerging from eyes that were almost black, the light from the moon and stars reflected in them, his cries growing only louder. Clarke felt something… something like love strike her then, happy as she was to hear from him stronger cries than she’d heard yet.
“August,” Clarke said with finality.
Gelma turned to regard Clarke quizzically.
“His name is August,” Clarke decided.
Gelma let forth a smile that wasn’t exactly a grin, but certainly gave that effect. “Let’s find August somewhere to sleep then, Skaigoufa.”
Skaigoufa was one of the better nicknames she’d been given. She’d take it over Wanheda any day.
Clarke told herself she’d stay a few days. Then a few days became a week, and then a week became a few weeks.
August was… August was everything. She didn’t know how it had happened; one day she was on the run, the next she had a new baby and new friends. Every day August got stronger and more perfect and she struggled to understand how she could care this much about someone. Suddenly she understood her own mother so much better than she had before.
The scab on his belly had healed without issue, and his hair had grown in even thicker and darker and curlier than before. She kept his feet wrapped up always, letting no one bathe him but herself, just in case. Gelma had cornered her about the feeding. Clarke had been reluctant, and embarrassed, pretty sure not even the medication they’d had on the Ark could induce a woman who hadn’t given birth to be able to feed a baby. Thing is, Gelma had no idea August wasn’t Clarke’s, and that was how Clarke planned to keep it. Swallowing her pride was a small price to pay to keep him safe and fed. The strangest part was that taking the draught when and as she was told had seemed to work, though August still needed a little goats milk from time to time too. Sometime between that first night and now, perhaps most of all when she held him to her chest, Clarke forgot that to begin with she hadn’t planned to keep him. They were each other’s now.
“He’s growing so fast,” Cullan praised the little boy, unabashedly peering over Clarke’s shoulder as she fed him. Cullan, Gelma’s daughter, was the picture of her mother, but without the intimidating eyes. Her eyes were green and wide and inviting instead. Clarke wasn’t ashamed to admit she might have a slight crush on the woman, though her thoughts were too distracted by someone else these days to think on that type of thing. Cullan was the only other member of the little village who knew Clarke wasn’t who she said she was. Even Gelma and Cullan still didn’t know the whole truth, or even her real name, and they didn’t push to know, which Clarke appreciated.
“It’s because he never stops eating,” Clarke huffed, stroking her son’s chubby, rosy, pale gold cheek as he suckled eagerly.
Cullan let out a short laugh, sitting down beside Clarke on her cot. “All babies are much the same. You can see he’s going to be very handsome. I suppose his father was so,” Cullan smiled at Clarke suggestively.
Cullan didn’t know that there had been no father. Clarke thought back to her last… whatever it was; her mind filled with thoughts of Finn that soon turned sour, remembering what he’d done, what she’d done. Her eyes darkening, she shoved all thought of Finn aside.
“He must have been strong, dark, beautiful, I’m sure, like his son,” Cullan said, all but giggling to herself.
Then, without any warning, Clarke found herself wondering what Bellamy was doing. Thinking of his dark curls and eyes and golden, freckled skin. She frowned down at August. Heat rose in her cheeks. Exactly what her brain was trying to tell her muddled by complicated feelings and some deeply repressed emotions.
Cullan grinned at Clarke’s increasingly pink complexion. “I think perhaps your face betrays that he was.”
Clarke tried to banish all thought of Bellamy from her mind, swallowing roughly as her cheeks grew hotter, mouth pursed tightly.
“I apologise if I made you uncomfortable by asking.” Cullan squeezed Clarke’s shoulder gently.
Clarke sent back a tight-lipped smile. Cullan’s question had raised one other thought to the surface.
“I have to go home. August’s over a month old, he’s strong enough now,” Clarke thought aloud, “my mom… she… she’ll be waiting.” ‘She’s probably worried I’m dead,’ Clarke berated herself silently. She might not be on the best of terms with her mom, but she didn’t want her thinking that. Clarke couldn’t imagine, if August left her, disappeared for six months. Clarke felt horribly sick at the suggestion. Bellamy… he might think she’s dead too. ‘May we meet again,’ his last words to her, and hers to him, now yet another reason she had to go home; she’d all but promised they would see each other again.
Then a third reason, the most important one, Clarke thought, holding August’s tiny, swaddled feet easily in one hand. It wasn’t a problem now, but it would be by the time he started trying to walk, and she couldn’t wait that long to get it sorted. She needed to be home, even if she had to face the consequences of what she’d done, her mom would look after August, or find someone worthy to do it instead, she was sure of it.
August had finished eating and seemed content, opening his tiny hand to look like a golden starfish, lying against the pale skin of her chest. She adjusted her shirt and brought him closer so she could kiss his soft brow. His eyes closed peacefully, thick dark lashes resting against his cheeks, button nose screwed as he wriggled further into her hold. She almost never put him down, keeping him in a sling at her chest almost constantly, as the grounder women did. On the Ark that was considered indulgence, but all Clarke knew was that it felt right. She felt off center without him now.
“Octavia, is his father dead?” Cullan suddenly asked softly.
Clarke’s thoughts of Bellamy and Finn returned with a fervour. She could almost feel the pressure of Finn’s flesh as she’d slipped the knife under his ribs. She’d killed the boy she loved. And Bellamy, she could see the heartbreak and worry on his face, tired, dark eyes pleading her not to leave, as she’d abandoned him all those months back. The warmth of his cheek as she’s pressed a kiss against his freckles, hoping it wasn’t the last time. She needed to go home.
“My real name is Clarke,” she said softly, fed up of being afraid, and trusting Cullan enough not to betray her, tears beginning to trail down her cheeks, “Clarke kom Skaikru, and I need to go home now.”
“Selene is my gentlest mare. She will take good care of you and your boy, Skaigoufa,” Gelma promised stroking the white horse’s face reverently.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” Clarke managed to get out, eyes filled with tears.
Gelma held Clarke’s face in her hands and kissed both of her cheeks, “Think kindly of us.”
Gelma leant down to kiss August’s forehead where he slept in his sling.
Cullan came forward, her own two year old daughter, Mea, on her hip. “Here,” Cullan handed Clarke a necklace made of plaited thread and adorned with two tiny charms whittled from a mahogany tree; a circle meant to represent a full moon and a slightly smaller star.
Clarke was touched. “It’s beautiful.”
“For your kru, so you don’t forget yourself again, Skaigoufa.” Cullan didn’t elaborate but reached up to stroke Clarke’s cheek affectionately, before leaning down as her mother had to give August a small kiss.
Clarke tied the gift around her neck. Walking over to Selene, the horse stayed resolute as Gelma helped Clarke mount.
“Do not travel at night, and stay to the coast. It is safest.” Gelma came forward and slipped the long sword she’d been holding into a sheath attached to the front of the saddle. She grabbed Clarke’s hand and pressed a kiss to the palm before placing the reins in it. “May Bekka Pramheda bless your journey,” Gelma said.
“May we meet again,” Clarke responded in kind.
“Yes, may we meet again,” Gelma echoed, smiling.
Clarke gave them one last sad smile, tapping with her heels and tugging on the horse’s reins, drawing the animal in the direction of home.
She was less than a day from Arkadia when she realised someone was tracking her.
It was evening, just beginning to grow dark. August had been so good, keeping quiet almost always. He’d always been a content baby, but he was particularly so now, almost like he knew. Clarke suspected that the movement of the horse actually soothed him. She had to stop a few times a day to clean him, but she could usually feed him on the move.
All it took was the snap of a twig for Clarke to know something was wrong. It was too harsh a snap, too deliberate. In her mind’s eye she imagined a large man, a cruel look in his eyes, watching her from the woods. She’d kept to the coast like Gelma had said, but at some point she’d needed to come inland to Arkadia.
The tail realised they’d been caught as Clarke froze, stilling the horse, turning her head just a little to listen out.
“Wanheda, I’m going to need you to dismount,” a gruff voice came from behind her.
Clarke trembled slightly, gripping the reins as her knuckles went white. She suddenly felt every breath her son took. August. This man wouldn’t hesitate to kill August.
Clarke yelled and dug her heels into the horse so hard she felt bad, mentally noting to give the poor creature some compensation when they got to Arkadia… if they got to Arkadia.
Selene set off at a gallop, winding through the trees, and for one shining moment Clarke truly believed she had made it out. Then there was a sharp, distant twang, and an arrow pierced her from behind. Clarke cried out through gritted teeth. August had woken and started to cry loudly. Clarke looked down through welling tears to see August unharmed but startled. Looking past him to her abdomen, she sobbed to see the arrow sticking clean through her right side, choking back tears, trying to keep it together. She just had to get to Arkadia, then at least August would be safe. He would be safe and whatever else happened, she would be okay with.
They galloped for a long time, until Clarke brought her back to a trot, not wanting her to tire. It was growing darker by the minute. Clarke struggled to stay upright, head pounding, vision blurring. She was sure she was losing blood, her side and upper leg were wet and warm. Bringing her head down to where August was curled up against her chest she muttered into his hair, “I’m so sorry.” Clarke choked out a sob, focusing on the smell of August where he was hidden under her jacket, and the destination she had to reach for his sake.
It was the lights she saw first. The first electric lights she’d seen since she left. A white glow to them, like stars against the darkness of the night. They blurred and grew out large under her infirm gaze, blinking hard, she tried to focus, holding tight as she could to the reins. Selene made a steady pace, emerging through the treeline to head up the rise to Arkadia.
Clarke vaguely made out the noise, the shouting, the people, as they opened the gates. Someone yelled her name, but it was distant. It was all blurred. Suddenly, someone tall and dressed in black caught her attention, running straight for her while others held back.
“Bellamy?” she muttered, more just out of hope, rather than actually recognising him.
“God, Clarke,” he gasped, catching her under the arms as she all but fell from Selene, trusting him to be there. He brought her back to her feet.
It took all her strength, hissing in pain, to pull her arm through the sling that held August, so she could remove the baby from her chest and pass him to Bellamy. She couldn’t risk fainting with August still in the sling.
Bellamy took the package Clarke gave him without thought or question, before realising what exactly it was.
Clarke heard his sharp intake of breath, and a questioning, “Clarke, wha...?”
“Su… support his head,” was what she managed as she let go of her son, trying to smile reassuringly through the pain.
“I’ve held a baby before, Princess,” Bellamy argued softly, still staring wide-eyed at the squirming child.
Clarke wanted to respond, but without August it was like the pain in her side suddenly doubled. She heard the baby start to scream, proper screaming like nothing she’d heard from him before, as Bellamy called out her name in horror. Her eyes rolling back in her head, the world faded away.
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